WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- NASA astronaut and International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly has shared images of the first flower grown in space: a zinnia that recently came to bloom.
"First ever flower grown in space makes its debut!" Kelly wrote on Twitter, showcasing the orange zinnia aboard the ISS. "Yes, there are other life forms in space! #SpaceFlower"
After growing red romaine lettuce aboard the ISS, zinnia flowers were chosen by the NASA Veggie plant growth facility project because they could help scientists understand how plants flower and grow in microgravity, NASA said in a statement.
"The zinnia plant is very different from lettuce," Veggie project manager Trent Smith said. "It is more sensitive to environmental parameters and light characteristics. It has a longer growth duration between 60 and 80 days. Thus, it is a more difficult plant to grow, and allowing it to flower, along with the longer growth duration, makes it a good precursor to a tomato plant."
Scientists will continue to monitor the zinnia crop, closely following Kelly's care and observations. NASA also said that growing plants may have psychological benefits in combating isolation and confined environments.
"The unexpected turns experienced during this Veggie run have actually offered bountiful opportunities for new learning and better understanding of one of the critical components to future journeys to Mars," NASA wrote.